Novels that set out to tell the story of two people, or rather two pairs of people, living decades apart don’t always succeed in telling a succinct and interesting story. The problems of tying to stories together and creating something that makes the reader want to read two more chapters again and again just to make sure she finds out everything she can about both people is a daunting task. For Justin Go, it doesn’t seem so hard.
There has been hype about THE STEADY RUNNING OF THE HOUR and Go lives up to the hype with his twin tale of Ashley Walsingham and Tristan Campbell.
Walsingham’s story is the more compelling of the two and Campbell is more of the vehicle by which the reader gets to see Walsingham. It changes the tone by making it seem as though the reader isn’t just watching Walsingham fight in the World War I trenches in France and climb Mount Everest but that the reader is helping Campbell search for evidence of Walsingham and the woman he loved while he did both those things. It makes the story more personal.
That the novel is based on the idea of an eighty year unclaimed trust, with what can best be described as just a few too many legalistic descriptions about it, possibly belonging to Tristan Campbell – as the maybe heir to Walsingham’s estate – is a little bit shaky. It might have worked just as well to have Campbell be a historian who stumbled onto family letters and just wanted to find out the truth. Then again, seeing the modern man weigh the value of knowing the family he never really knew in life with the value of a priceless estate is a good way of moving things from one place to the next.
It’s because of the parallels between Ashley in the first two decades of the 20th century and Tristan in the first two decades of the 21st that the story works. Both men are in their early twenties and both men dive headfirst into the thing which their society suggests they don’t. Neither cares for rules and neither particularly wants to follow them if it can be avoided. They know they are other things that are much more important, even if they can’t quite say why.
The two supporting characters in the story are the women in the lives of the men. Mireille, the modern woman, is the lesser character but by far the better one. She shares an uncertainty with Imogen, the woman Ashley loves, but she doesn’t lash out against her insecurities as Imogen does. Instead, she lets Tristan do what he needs to do and hopes against hope that he’ll come back to her. Imogen throws away her world and everything in it because she can’t change the world to her liking. She’s selfish and she does suffer for it but it’s a part of the reason the reader may feel compassion for Ashley – he’s horribly treated by her and he loves her just the same.
One story ends in a tragedy of sorts that will leave the reader feeling a little empty. One story ends in a hopefulness of sorts that will leave the reader feeling a little full.
It’s an excellent balance to a very good story.
(I received a copy of THE STEADY RUNNING OF THE HOUR through a Goodreads.com FirstReads giveaway. This review will be cross-posted on my blog and my Goodreads account.)